Tixinda at the Feria

The 16th annual Feria Maestros del Arte, which took place in Chapala this past weekend, was “an unparalled opportunity to learn about the process, value, and meaning of generations-old Mexican folk art.” The most fascinating of all the enchanting things I learned about was Tixinda, an ancient purple dye. This dye, which requires no additional chemicals to set permanently, is milked from the nearly extinct purpura panza mollusk, a snail in a handsome shell that lives only in a deep bays along the coast of Oaxaca. The  milking must be done right where the snails live; otherwise the dye does not ‘paint’ the hand-spun skein of cotton thread. And the snails are then immediately returned  to the sea, alive!

The seasonal work is handed down as a family tradition to the men of  mountain villages that are an eight day walk away from the coast. It is difficult work due to the dangers of the sea, and it takes the milking of 300 snails to dye one skein of thread spun by the women of the village!The dyed skeins are then returned to the village women to use in weaving and designing a stunning array of one-of-a-kind textile art.

In the community of Pinotepa de Don Luis in Oaxaca, Tixinda is also the name of a weaving cooperative.  Over 60 women of Mixtec origin are passing down the 3,000-year-old tradition of spinning and weaving with the tixinda-dyed thread. It takes about two weeks of preparation and spinning to produce one kilo of cotton thread and approzximately three months to weave a traditional huípil using four kilos of thread. The cooperative is looking for your support to keep them weaving a spinning in their own homes, instead of cleaning in ours. All purchases and donations are tax deductible.






Nati’s Castle

There are many ways of being thrust into outsider status, as I well know from my own experience. I had never considered being non-Catholic as one of them— until I heard this story from the open-minded grandmother of a lively and curious child whose nickname is Nati.

Three-year-old Natalia skipped along, reluctantly allowing the babysitter to hold her hand. As they passed the village church, Natalia pointed with her free hand and said, “Look, a castle! It must be the house of a prince and a princess!”

The babysitter stopped abruptly and stared at the child. “No!” she said. “Not a castle! It’s the house of God, and we must make the sign of the cross. Like this.”

Natalia tilted her head toward her babysitter. “What?” Her three-year-old version of the Mexican, Mande? came out as Man’e?

The babysitter repeated the sign of the cross again. “Like this.”

Natalia’s puzzlement made her tip her head even more. “Man’e?” she asked again, in a voice even higher than her normal little-child pitch.

For the third time the babysitter made the motions and told Natalia it was the house of God. For the third time, Natalia’s voice saying “Man’e?”came out even higher-pitched in disbelief. Her little head was so tilted at the strangeness of her babysitter’s words and actions that the child nearly fell over on the sidewalk.

At last they moved on from the church and reached Natalia’s house. The babysitter related the incident to Natalia’s grandma in a hushed tone, almost as incredulous as the child had been. La abuela listened calmly as she gave Natalia her coloring tablet and crayons. “We are not Catholic, you see,” Natalia’s grandma matter-of-factly informed the babysitter.

The babysitter staggered backwards a step before she caught her balance. She mumbled some syllable of polite response to the elder, something that pretended to accept what she was hearing– information that, to the babysitter’s prejudiced point of view, thrust this innocent child and her family outside the acceptable.

Meanwhile, Natalia drew and colored, one ear tuned to the grown-ups. Readers peeking over her paper would see a crooked golden castle with a bell tower reaching into clouds. Leaning out of a window in the tower waving, there was a tiny stick figure, with an arrow pointing down to a word scribbled at the bottom of the page: Nati!

La Princesa, of course.

La Muerte de Todos Los Días

Last night at the Ajijic Cultural Center, El Forito Theatre Troupe presented La Muerte de Todos Los Días. My Spanish wasn’t fluent enough to understand most of the fast narration during the scenes/skits, but the superb acting carried me through and inspired the following piece:

The Death of Every Day

The Death of Every Day
invites me to kiss her on the lips.
She says I will die,
but live again, to die—
if I take her for my bride.
How humble she makes me feel,
how equal to all.
For the offer to fall in her arms,
so intimate, so alluring,
is one she makes to every being.
So handsome she is,
I do not feel afraid.
She takes my hand as if
she has known me since my birth.
Shall we dance, she asks?
Dancing with Death
for all of life, I risk
nothing but what comes to all.
We twirl and dip and spin!
Dancing with passionate Death
I devote myself to living breath
and willingly
whirl away the days.

©Susa Silvermarie 2017

“…the beautiful resignation and release of a Mexican death, how death in Mexico is not something separate from life, but bound to it by a million invisible filaments. The task for the living is to tease out these filaments, adorn them with coloured paper and tinsel; make them visible.”       p.14, In the Casa Azul, by Meaghan Delahunt

Best Poem of 2017

I’m so happy to share that I recently received this award from the Lake Chapala publication, El Ojo del Lago, for the Best Poem of 2017. I am particularly pleased because the poem “Conchita at Lakeside,” (p 44 in link below) is a narrative about an elder who was my first local friend when I arrived last year, a woman whose presence every day under the eucalyptus trees has grounded my  life here in Ajijic. I am truly grateful to El Ojo del Lago for the opportunity to share her story! And gracias to Joyce Wycoff, photographer extraordinaire.